THE RICE CREEK PROJECT: INTERDISCIPLINARY UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH FUNDED BY AN EPA WATERSHED PLANNING GRANT
The opportunity to work on a real-world environmental problem is rewarding and motivating for participants and generates publicity for the College. The requirement to adopt approved protocols and meet quality control standards is a key lesson for students. Summer research projects lead to senior theses and meeting presentations and are integrated by faculty into their courses. The interdisciplinary scope strengthens interactions across campus and forges links between the College and watershed stakeholders (including local citizens and government officials, regulators, and conservationists).
The strengths of the project are also its challenges. There is a steep learning curve to adopt protocols and master new equipment. The needs of meeting regulatory demands limit research flexibility. The integration of the different studies to address the project goals stretches the bounds of student research. Faculty and student participation outside the summer field season is an ongoing issue. Having worked through these challenges, we plan to continue real-world interdisciplinary stream monitoring beyond the current Rice Creek project.